BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Xenova Group plc has sold for £800,000 (US$1.5 million) in cash the sheep monoclonal antibody business acquired when it took over KS Biomedix Holdings plc in September 2003.

The sale, to a management buyout team led by Peter Harrison, the new technology manager at KS Biomedix (KSB), has led to the formation of Bioventix Ltd., a company that will specialize in developing sheep antibodies for use in clinical diagnostics. It has one early stage therapeutic program working on antibody constructs for use in oncology.

Bioventix raised £1.2 million in venture capital to fund the buyout, which included the freehold of laboratories at KSB's research facility in Farnham. Nine KSB staff members are joining the company.

Peter Harrison, now managing director of Bioventix, told BioWorld International there are no plans to raise further funding.

"The diagnostics aspect of the business is revenue generating, turning over £200,000 per annum, and the business strategy is to build on this," he said.

Bioventix has just started work on a new contract for one of the major diagnostic companies and would be developing further sheep antibodies for diagnostic use.

"We have enough money to become cash positive in two to three years doing contract work and marketing diagnostics," Harrison said. "This will then fund our research in oncology."

There will be no ongoing relationship with Slough-based Xenova, though it has retained an option to develop any candidates that emerge from the Bioventix oncology program.

David Oxlade, CEO of Xenova, said that the sale marked "continuing progress in achieving the cost savings expected at the time of the acquisition of KSB and in realizing value from non-core assets."

The one element of the sheep monoclonal technology that Xenova has retained is XR303, a radiolabeled antibody, which is in Phase I/II trials in pancreatic cancer.

KSB was set up in 1993 to commercialize sheep monoclonal antibodies and Harrison worked for the company, and on the technology, from its inception.

The therapeutic program is at the point of proof of concept for trimeric antibodies for targeting solid tumors. The aim is to combine the high affinity of sheep monoclonals with bi-specificity.

"We can make an antibody against tumor antigen A and tumor antigen B in the same molecule," Harrison said. "We hope by the end of 2004 to have some preclinical candidates."